Team Rocky Handsome – John Abraham, Sunir Kheterpal and Nishikant Kama talk to Team Box Office India about their film and reveal the intricacies in film making and their experience.
Box Office India (BOI): How did Rocky Handsome come about?
Sunir Kheterpal (SK): It’s fairly simple. We were starting Azure Entertainment and we wanted to do a film that would raise the bar of at least one element. So we bought the remake rights of this Korean film, John Abraham got into it, Nishi (Nishikant Kamat) got into it and adapted it in his way. And that’s how Rocky Handsome happened.
John Abraham (JA): I fell in love with the story and, I always say this being a fan of Nishi… he is one director who handles emotion very well. That is very apparent when you watch Dombivali Fast or Mumbai Meri Jaan, and all his other films. I think the three people seated here have been taking all the decisions while making the film. If we have to give credit to anybody for how Rocky Handsome happened, it’s the three of us. Whether or not it becomes a huge success, doesn’t matter. Making the film happen was the most challenging part. All three of us have literally driven the film right from the beginning to the marketing strategies. Azure Entertainment has been absolutely fantastic. Sunir has that thing… he listens to you, then he offers ‘the point of view’. And he has done a fantastic job. And I believe it’s his first baby, so it’s very close to his heart, which is why he is pampering it a lot. And with Nishi, it’s like sitting in a Rolls-Royce. It’s like, you have a good director, so enjoy the ride now.
BOI: Whose idea was it to call the film ‘Rocky Handsome’?
Nishikant Kamat (NK): It all started when we were doing the costume trials. I saw him (Abraham) in a black suit and told him ‘Yaar John, you are looking very handsome.’ So it all started with the word ‘handsome’. There was a film called Johnny Handsome in the late ’70s. But then ‘Johnny’ and ‘John’ were too similar. One day, the name ‘Rocky’ came to mind and it was an apt rhyme… ‘Johnny-Rocky’. And he (John) is a big fan of the Rocky film series, so he loved the title. But Sunir was quite apprehensive about it. (Laughs)
JA: I think the time clicked for all of us.
NK: That is also an integral part of the story. Like the neighbour’s girl, a kid who always calls him ‘handsome’. He doesn’t talk to anyone, doesn’t interact with anyone. So she keeps talking to him and saying, ‘handsome, call me’, ‘handsome, get me this, get me that’. So the word ‘handsome’ works as a synonym for the film. Then there is another world, he is a very strong man, he is a kill machine, he is a tough man. In that world, people call him ‘Rocky’. So both words were apt and that’s how Rocky Handsome became the title of our film.
BOI: This film is an official remake of a Korean film. What changes have you made to adapt it to the Indian audience?
NK: When you make a remake it has to match the taste of Indian audience. You have to think pan-India. Then there are tons of changes you have to make so that the film appeals to Indian tastes and sensibilities. It’s not easy to take a film and make it in Hindi. You can’t just translate the language and make a film… the emotions and the background, every aspect, has to do justice to the film. We all want the film to do well in West Bengal and in Gujarat, in Jaipur, the South, everywhere.
Like, when I did Drishyam, it was a Malayalam film. Vajir (Singh), remember, I had spoken to you about it? I had to change the story completely as I was catering to 24 states. It was a region-specific film, and we made a whole lot of changes to make it a pan-India film. If you are making an official adaptation, you need to spend time on the story and give it its due respect. Since someone else has made the film, we should not go wrong.
BOI: There is a lot of hand-to-hand combat in the film. Where did that come from and was there a lot of thought that went into making that decision?
NK: Definitely, a lot of thought went into the action. John and I made Force in 2010 and it did pretty well. And we used a particular kind of action. For this film we needed to use that action as a yardstick and ask ourselves how we could come up with a new kind of action. We finally concluded that the best action India had not yet seen was hand-to-hand combat. We decided to use a mixture of martial arts in a serious zone. We didn’t want to use cars or villains flying in the air. I am not saying that is wrong; I did that in Lai Bhaari but I wanted to showcase a new form of action. That’s how we locked the action.
It was Sunir who mentioned this team in Thailand who did this kind of martial arts. He showed us their show reel, and after watching it, I told him to call them. They are called Zaika Stunts; Kesha is the main guy, who teaches. I told him about my film, the story and the kind of action I wanted. He asked for a week’s time after which he would send us a video. He went back and choreographed five action sequences that I wanted in a particular style. They shot it with their fighters and sent it to me. Then I met John and told him, ‘You have to do this.’
JA: (Cuts in) And I was, like, you want me to do all this?
NK: (Laughs) Yes, that’s when the hard work started for him (John), more than for me. I was adamant about the action as it looked brilliant but I was also wondering how he would achieve it. He went to Thailand and attended a rigorous workshop there. He totally learnt it and even got injured in the process. But when he returned, he looked like a macho man. Then the team too came over here. But when we started shooting, we had to train an Indian team of fighters and an Indian fight master because the film is Indian. It’s been a labour of hard work. We set out to achieve something and we have.
SK: Not to take any credit away from Nishi but whenever we made suggestions, he would only buy into the one where he saw logic. All three of us were working for the film. I was familiar with Zaika Stunts because I had worked with them in Billa 2, where it was all hand-to-hand combat. He is also a very meticulous director, which is why John went to Thailand to learn the action, so that once we started shooting, he would know the moves.
BOI: Sunir, were you excited as you got the villain for free?
SK: I was very excited. The action was sorted, we had a hero and everything was moving as planned. So when Nishi agreed to play the villain, I was happy that we had saved money and also because he is a very good actor. Plus there was no need to be worry about dates. You don’t see him doing any action but what he does is outstanding. He had been true to the character while creating it, so when he had to play the part, he did full justice to it. A lot of people who have watched the rushes of the film ask, ‘Who’s this guy?’ Imagine their surprise when we tell them it’s Nishi!
BOI: This is the second film for both of you. How much easier is it to work together, second time around?
NK: John and I have been friends since 2006-2007 and had been planning to do a film together since then. Then Force happened, and we shot for around 100 days. We were like husband and wife! When you hit it off, you form a solid friendship. So, after Force, we became very close pals.
That’s why, when we worked together this time, we dispensed with the formalities. For instance, he didn’t have to treat me as a director and I didn’t have to treat him as an actor or producer. After every shot, he knew if I needed another take by simply reading my expression. Since he knew what I wanted from every shot, I didn’t have to narrate entire scenes to him, just two lines were sufficient. It’s the kind of relationship that grows over time. It’s been a decade.
JA: What he said is very interesting because, when he used to walk from assist to the sets after one take, I knew whether he was okay with it or not from his expression. We were on auto-pilot. There is a scene that only Nishi and I could have pulled off the way we did. It’s our song Aye khuda, where I am crying. We must have shot it in just five minutes because the light was fading. Shruti (Haasan) was flying out on that day, so we had very little time. So we shot that song in five minutes and today everyone says it’s looking very nice. The credit goes to the director as he knows how to handle me.
BOI: John, you have been labelled as an ‘action star’. Does that worry you?
JA: In our country, we are terrified of being typecast. So, let me put it this way. Internationally, the biggest action stars are stars who can barely do any action, honestly but they have the best attitude. Whether Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger… Bruce Willis saying ‘Go ahead, make my day’; or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous line ‘I’ll be back’.
NK: (Cuts in) Even Vin Diesel.
JA: Yes, Vin Diesel, also The Rock. Being an ‘action star’, I take pride in getting the attitude of the action hero right. There is a certain physicality that comes to play but it also calls for the right attitude. I think that is most important.